Thursday, August 23, 2012

Four Wheelin' To Chinatown.......

Surviving another day in Panama City with our first stop being Toyota to have the four wheel drive sensor replaced on the car.  To our amazement they actually had the part and finished the service in one hour, just like they promised. Clyde wanted to do lunch in Chinatown, although it's not officially called that here.  Our last experience was say the least....when we didn't know if we'd eaten chicken, duck, turkey or cat.  To read the whole story refer back to the blog from October 3rd of last year.  Although not looking forward to another strange dining experience, I went along for the ride.

Nestled into the El Dorado section of the city lies this small, congested Chinese area.  We drove down what felt like a narrow alley with cars parked everywhere.  Both sides of the alley were lined with small store fronts displaying signs in Chinese.  Some proudly displayed whole raw ducks and chickens hanging in the window like decorations.  Only because a car pulled out did we manage to snag a narrow little parking spot.  Nearby Chinos watched closely as Clyde pulled the car into the spot.  They seemed to be worried that he would bump into their car, assuming they had one there. 

Displayed in front of our windshield was a bright red sign that read "Restaurante California....Comida China."  Seemed like a strange name for Panamá being such a distant contrast to the California lifestyle.  The sign on the door said "abierto" (open) in both Spanish and Chinese. 

Once inside I felt as if I'd walked into a banquet hall.  Large round tables covered with deep red linen tablecloths, topped with large lazy susans filled the room.  Since it seemed wasteful for two people to take up a table for 8, I kept walking until I found a smaller one with just four chairs.  The waitress was a tiny Chino dressed in faded blue jeans, black sneakers with a long sleeved white dress shirt a few sizes too big for her.  Her dark hair was neatly cut into a short bob which gave her a more modern day appearance.

She brought over a stainless steel pot of tea and two tiny white cups with no handles on them along with the menu.  Clyde noticed that some of the menu was in English and decided to do the ordering for us, which was just fine with me.  He ordered "rollos camirones" or shrimp egg rolls to which the waitress said no.  She explained in Spanish of course, that out of the four items on the appetizer menu they only had fried wantons or shrimp fried wantons.  He agreed to the shrimp wantons and ordered a meal of a chow mien combo. 

The tiny waitress put down her 3x5 inch notepad on the table to write down our order.  The black ink of her pen showed up clearly on the pristine white paper.  We marveled at how neatly she wrote in Chinese carefully creating each character with her tiny hand.  Of course we had no idea what she scripted and just hoped it was the right order.

As we waited for the food to arrive I took in the surroundings and drew a mental picture in my mind.  The walls were lined with huge paintings of the Great Wall of China, next to modern day air conditioner units providing a nice contrast.  A door to my right opened into the kitchen where the waitress went in and out.  Directly inside the door was a set of black steps that twisted sideways in this strange old building.  I  wondered how she managed to not drop the food running up and down the narrow steps all day long. 

Soon she arrived with a large platter of shrimp wantons and another of the main course.  One platter was covered with a huge portion of noodles soaked in "salsa chino" or soy sauce.  It was topped with veggies and tiny pieces of chicken, beef and shrimp.  A delightful taste sensation, we enjoyed our food as we watched the huge platters pass by to other tables.  The meal total was less than $7 and our tummies were stuffed to the brim. 

On the way out I made a pit stop at the bathroom.  I pushed back the door with the "bano" sign on it and walked into a rounded hallway.  The ladies room had round walls and I realized that this part of the building was like a round silo.  I marveled at the architecture of this neat old building as I headed back to the front.

From there we made a stop at Price Smart, a modern warehouse members only type club to stock up on basics.  With our cooler full we headed home from our day in the city.  Happy that once again we have four wheel drive just in case we ever need it.

We spent the night at an expat mixer in Coronado.  The meal was a strange mix of lasagna with fries, Italian bread and salad.  Tons of people filled the tiny restaurant both inside and out.  Later as the skies opened up and poured with rain, everyone had to squeeze together under cover. 

Tired after a long day we headed home to relax.  Another day of new experiences, challenges and good friends....along the gringo trail.

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